How to Balance Taking on More Work When Your Coworkers Leave

Few circumstances disrupt your work life more quickly than a colleague's resignation. You might be saying goodbye to a good work friend, or you might (secretly) be relieved your coworker is moving on to greener pastures. But once you've dealt with the initial emotional reaction, reality will set in, and both you and your boss will wonder, who's going to do the work? Quite likely, the answer is you—at least in the interim. It's important to maintain balance when taking on more work after a coworker leaves. These strategies can help.

take on more work

Ensure you and your boss are on the same page

You might initially be taken aback when your boss calls you in and delegates additional responsibilities to you for an undetermined period of time. That's why it’s so critical to establish clarity about the new work. Have a follow-up conversation with your manager to determine:

  • What type of training will you receive to ramp up on new projects or tasks? Can you spend time with your departing coworker to learn the ropes? Is there documentation for business processes or a list of key contacts?
  • After your coworker's last day, who can answer your questions?
  • Can any of your own current projects or responsibilities be temporarily pushed back or reassigned to accommodate this new work?
  • Is this a permanent reassignment, or does the company plan to replace your coworker? If so, what is the timeline?

The answer to the last question is critical. If the company has already posted the open position, it's reasonable to be a team player and work extra hours to get the job done. But be on the lookout for your company to use your coworker's departure as an opportunity to reduce its employee headcount. It's a common occurrence—after all, it's much less painful not to replace a departing employee than it is to let someone go. If this is the case, you should consider having a conversation with your supervisor about increasing your compensation for the added responsibilities. If you previously managed two accounts and now you're managing an additional client, it's reasonable to ask for a pay bump.

Follow up your meeting with an email to your boss summarizing your discussion. This provides a clarity checkpoint and also establishes written documentation.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

This follow-up conversation can't be the last discussion you have with your boss on the topic. You will have days when you simply have too much on your plate. That's when you and your boss need to review your tasks and determine priorities.

As you move forward, be mindful of your time. The answer isn't always working extra hours. Again, that might be reasonable for a few weeks, but as a long-term solution, it's a recipe for burnout. Remember work is only one part of your life—you also have family, friends, fitness, and your other interests to tend to. If you neglect these other areas of your life for an extended period, you’re likely to feel resentful about your work, leading to dissatisfaction on the job. This will just open the door to an entirely new set of problems. You need to give yourself grace not to get everything done like you used to—and permission to set boundaries. You shouldn't need to work every Saturday and Sunday.

On a personal level, you'll want to consider whether the additional responsibilities are within your area of professional expertise and interest, particularly if this is a permanent reassignment of duties. It's one thing to take on an afternoon at the receptionist's desk once a week as your company interviews candidates. It's quite another to do this permanently if your professional interests lie elsewhere. Remember, unless you are employed under a contract—which is rare—you can determine at any time that a position is no longer a good fit for you. And that's OK. Circumstances change.

Losing a coworker is never easy, but if you establish clarity and clear boundaries with your manager, it can be a time to show your value to the team and possibly even pick up some new skills.

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